Last week, when I was writing about sessionals, I made the following statement:
“Had pay levels stayed constant in real terms over the last 15 years, and the surplus gone into hiring, the need for sessionals in Arts & Science would be practically nil”.
A number of you wrote to me, basically calling BS on my statement. So I thought it would be worthwhile to show the math on this.
In 2001-02, there were 28,643 profs without administrative duties in Canada, collectively making $2.37 billion dollars, excluding benefits. In 2009-10, there were 37,266 profs making $4.29 billion, also excluding benefits. Adjusting for inflation, that’s a 56% increase in total compensation – but, of course, much of that is taken up by having more profs. If we also control for the increase in the number of professors, what we have left is an increase of 18.8%, or $679 million (in 2009 dollars).
How many new hires could you make with that? Well, the average assistant prof in 2009 made $90,000. So, simple math would suggest that 7,544 new assistant profs could have been hired for that amount. That means that had professors’ salaries stayed even in real terms, universities could have hired 16,347 new staff in that decade, instead of the 8,803 they actually did.
(Okay, I’m oversimplifying a bit. There are transaction costs to landing new professors. And hiring that many young profs all at once would just be storing up financial chaos 5-15 years down the road, as they gain in seniority. So $679 million probably wouldn’t buy you that many new profs. But on the other hand, if you were doing some hiring, you’d spend less money on sessionals, too, so it’s probably not far off.)
Would that number of new hires have eliminated the need for sessionals? Hard to say, since we have no data either on the number of sessionals, or the number of courses they collectively teach. What we can say is that if 7,500 professors had been hired, the student:faculty ratio would have fallen from 25:1 to 22:1, instead of rising – as, in fact, it did – to 27:1. That’s a pretty significant change no matter how you slice it.
(The question remains, though: would you want to give up sessionals, even if you could? As I pointed out last week, in many programs sessionals perform a vital role of imparting practical, real-world experience to students. And even where that’s not their primary function, they act as swing labour, helping institutions cope with sudden surges of students in particular fields of study. They have their uses, you know.)
Now, I’m not suggesting that professors should have foregone all real wages increases over a decade, in order to increase the size of the professoriate. But I am suggesting that universities have made some choices in terms of pay settlements that has affected their ability to hire enough staff to teach all the students they’ve taken on. The consequence – as I noted before – is more sessionals. But it very definitely did not need to be that way.